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New Orleans City Council Expected Vote on Plant Proposal Next February

by Anitra D. Brown

Entergy New Orleans recently capped off a series of meetings throughout New Orleans on its proposal for a power station in New Orleans East. The utility giant held its most recent meeting in late September to outline its two-option proposal for a new power station in the New Orleans East Industrial Corridor and to answer questions and concerns from the public.

Entergy held public meetings in each of the Council districts, hosting several in District E, where the proposed power station would be located. The meetings began in late July, with the most recent one taking place Sept. 27 at New Orleans East Hospital. Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice says the new power station is needed to better meet the energy demands of its customers, adding that Entergy New Orleans has decided to offer an alternative option to its original proposal after hearing initial public feedback.

The original proposal for a 226-mega-watt combustion turbine is still on the table; however, the City Council will consider it along with another proposal for a smaller, 128-mega-watt unit composed of reciprocating engines. Both options are natural gas-fired.

The City Council is set to make a decision on the plan next February.

And the biggest difference between the two options is size. Rice says the decision to offer another choice came after early public feedback on the power station proposal.

Rice recently sat down with The New Orleans Tribune/Trib Talk to discuss the utility giant’s plans.

The new power station planned for New Orleans East would replace deactivated units built in the 1960s. Those units were deactivated in June 2016 because of their age and increased upkeep costs.

The plans for the new power station have been met with criticism. In fact, environmental organizations and residents gathered as recently as mid-October to voice their opposition to Entergy’s power station proposal. Calling themselves the Energy Future New Orleans Coalition, the group wants the City Council to vote against the plant. EFNO is concerned about the safety issues, as well as the cost. In a printed release, the group contends that “New Orleans residents and businesses are going to be stuck paying for the $230+ million gas plant for 30 years on their Entergy bills.”

EFNO also argues that “Entergy has failed to consider the adverse impacts and risks of building a gas plant in New Orleans East near predominantly African American, Vietnamese American and Latino neighborhoods.”

That’s not the case, Rice says, adding that the location of the plant is far from residential areas and reminding that adding a second option was a direct response to public concerns regarding emissions and ground water use.

“All the infrastructure is there—the transmission yard, the control house, the gas pipelines we operated there for 50 years, it’s an industrial area, there are no houses around that area and again we operated there for 50 years as a good corporate citizen, a good environmental citizen,” Rice told The Tribune. “We held a number of community meetings and we listened to the public, and there were some concerns.

Although we believe that the 226 mega-watt facility had limited emissions and used limited ground water, we thought it was best that we give the Council an alternative. So what we offered was a smaller unit that had even fewer emissions and that will use even less ground water than the 226-watt proposal. (The 128-watt unit) also has black-start capability, which means that if the entire grid goes down we can still start this plant up and power a significant portion of our customers.”

In addition to concerns about emissions and ground water use, EFNO has called on Entergy to focus more on safer, renewable energy sources, such as solar power.

Rice says renewables are a part of the utility company’s operation, but they come short of addressing the customers’ daily energy demands.

“We are fully supportive of renewables. In fact we have one mega-watt solar facility off of Downman Road. When that facility came on line in 2016 it was one of only five in the country that included battery storage,” he says. “It’s not something we are against. It’s just that…we can’t fill the need with solar power. Solar is what we call an intermittent resource. Renewables have their place; but for us to make sure we have a safe, reliable and stable grid, we need the New Orleans power station.”

Rice adds that without a stable, reliable electric grid closer to home, Entergy customers may face cascading outages in the future. Power for the city of New Orleans is generated outside of New Orleans at stations in Taft, La., and Westwego and also in Mississippi. But as demand increases, another source is needed.

“If we are not allowed to build this facility we are going to have to go out and purchase power on the open market; and we have to go out an purchase on the open market we can’t control the cost,” he says.

To learn more about the New Orleans power station proposal, visit entergyneworleans.com/powertogrow.

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